Taking Away The Sting Of Death

I thought of Carol last Saturday during the Stewardship Consultation. I thought of her again today when reading the story linked below in this reflection.

Carol and Rick and their three college-age daughters joined Broadmoor Community Church in Colorado Springs. I remember the February, 1980 day, the same say the USA beat Russia in Olympic Hockey. Obviously, even though my first Sunday as pastor, the man counting attendance had little to do!

That very Sunday Rick and Carol arrived, their first time. They left their name and asked for a visit. The next morning, I called Carol, remember her laryngitis and made an appointment for the next night. That same afternoon I had forgotten I had called Carol, called her again. There was “something” about that raspy voice. I thought, Where have I heard that voice before?

It was Carol! I was Mark! What a mess-up. I admitted that I had forgotten the morning conversation. In the perfect “Carol tone” she responded, “Oh, it’s so nice to have a minister who’s not afraid to be a human being.”

Life continued. A few years later, both Rick and Carol very involved in leadership at the church and community, Carol was diagnosed with lung cancer, liver cancer, bone cancer. The full lexicon, her days becoming shorter.

At Thanksgiving their three daughters came home and said to their mother, knowing the cancer was rampaging, “Mother…we want to take you shopping, to get you some new clothes for Christmas.”

Carol muted to that, had something else in mind. She hadn’t shared that she read a very poor family living up the canyon in Green Mountain Falls lost everything in a fire in their trailer home. Carol tracked down the mother, got the sizes of that family’s 3 grade-school-age girls. She then on the day for shopping, showed her daughters the “special shopping list.” They gulped, yet they KNEW this was their mother, not letting death stare them down.

That afternoon the five Tilden’s visited the Green Mountain Falls family to share Christmas gifts. Not a word said about Carol’s failing health. For Carol the point was to help others. A few months later she died.

That is a WOW experience for me, about what it means to face super foes, and for many death is the worst foe, and not be killed by it. I thought of that when reading this link, about how a daughter’s death brought forth a love…not planned, but neither denied nor avoided.
And with that, as I write this Tuesday April 17, 2018, one day before my dear mother’s birthday [Mom? May your soul be at peace; your son’s doing what he can, no matter what.] I am packing to fly to Tucson. It will be a wonderful trip. To visit Jessica Cox, her husband, Patrick and her father. To listen to her father in what it means to raise a daughter with no arms. To preach in the church where two of the dearest friends in the world are members, Hugh and Jane Smith. Even have a new story Jane and Hugh haven’t heard before.

In that visit I am sure I will learn how the human capacity to love is not dwindled by the specter of pain or hardship or bumps. My prayer for me, for Diane and Jason, for my two sons and their families, is they, too, live in the day, giving carpe diem the best definition possible.

Here’s the link—a daughter was killed by a stray bullet—and how her family and one other are impacted.

God bless us and care for us…always!


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God Save The Angel In Each of Us

I can spell S y r I a. I can spell t o m a h a w k m I s s I l e.

You can, too. Perspectives vary on, “their effectiveness.” That’s not my point.

My point is to ask why war “seems” the only conduit to peace?

During my journey, especially when pastor at Broadmoor Community Church in Colorado Springs, I had the great privilege of wonderful conversations with both retired and active military. It was from the inductees a month past and 4-star Generals. Not one of them favored war, but even more would never eschew the responsibility to protect our country.

Two of my dearest friends, God rest their souls, were Charlie Duff and Bill Greenfield…both retired generals. They wanted me to learn. I was so honored to attend each of their service War Colleges. The Army’s in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania and the Air Force’s in Montgomery, Alabama. Five days of learning and dialogue, the War College the training ground to become general officers. As I have mentioned often in my reflections, the closest military friend for over 4 decades is Bob Dickman, retired General. He and Barb are the dearest to me and Diane.

Where is this going? Stick with me a bit.

I have yet to hear a program about “the bombs of today” on ANY newscast that doesn’t ask the question, “What kind of world are we leaving for our children’s children’s children?”

Does anyone with authority give a damn about that?

God have mercy on us if we leave the future out. Yeah, I know some say military might secures the future. I don’t believe that is the ultimate deliverer to peace.

What I believe I got in a special e-mail today, from my wonderful cousin, Tom Widlits in Portland. It hit me in the heart as he shared a picture. I’ve written about Emery before, Tom and Jill’s adopted grandchild. To say she’s so incredibly dear is a huge understatement. She is growing. So fast. But I ask, into what? For what purpose?

My commitment is to do whatever I can, that never leaves God out, to help Emery and my own grandchildren be as okay as possible in their human steps on the landscape of life.

With that I’m so very much aware that my daughter-in-law, serving in the military as attorney, is on her way to Europe to serve our country and all humanity. Jennifer, we love you and ask God to be with you and Andrew and Dylan and Taylor. Gottes Segen!

Finally, this.

To know that children like Emery were gassed to death in Syria trembles my heart. Oh God! Please help us discover the future doesn’t require such dastardly acts. No less, help us realize that war, in the ultimate dialogue about futuring, is not a necessity. It simply isn’t. May we have the wisdom and the courage and the regard for ALL of God’s Creation to make choices that enhance rather than destroy others.

Say hello to our Emery—and pray for her and her parents—for a future where growth wins!

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Life Is More Than Selecting A Cantaloupe

Over the years, some of which were in the very personal levels in ministry, it occurred to me how difficult ministry is. Not that this vocation stands alone. Not sure any vocation [calling to share the fullest self for the benefit of others] lacks energy and full devotion. None that I can think of.

I almost laughed when I reviewed a church’s budget that indicates the minister is charted on salary scale “to work 40 hours.” Reason for the whimsy I don’t know how ministry, effective ministry that connects the pastor to the congregation and community, is measured by the hour or minute or second.

That’s like a church considering its “wealth” by how much money it has. Wrong. The value of ministry and church’s life is measured by caring spirits that connect. Not about money, but about meaning. IT’s the voice of the heart that matters. The best churches know the difference between cost and value. They also know when the budget is the goal, the result is often compromised to the point of falling short.

We should not give to a budget, which makes the objective meeting the budget. Rather, we should give because it’s in our heart to do so. In a very real way that’s to say the cross is more important than the dollar sign.

Now. Why this visit?

Because yesterday in a full day seminar on Stewardship—with 20 churches, their clergy and laity—I saw in a very powerful way how the challenges of ministry, which are impacted by so much, not the least of which is the very community in which the church resides. Even more, with the energy, attitude, imagination and focus of the pastor, I clapped and cheered for those pastors and their members. For THEY understand ministry is not by the hour, it’s by the efforts, the time shared with others.

Not to name names. They know who they are. I HOPE they understand how much I value them, how much they taught me.

It was not of mild interest we started our seminar to share how we select a cantaloupe. As the cantaloupe got handed around, the “verdict” was offered. Everyone realized this particular cantaloupe “wasn’t ready.” However, the verdict came from many angles. Had to do with smell, softness, the tip pressed, and someone even said the best way was to shake it for the seeds rattling, a sign of readiness.

I laughed because in living, in ministry, in filling each day with value and love and caring, we are different. Very different. The same purpose, though, is to live with focus upon serving God. Live as if there’s no tomorrow. To, as a friend said recently, not die before we are dead.

I give thanks for those who met with me yesterday in San Antonio. They “get” ministry. I celebrate that and ask God to guide and empower them, whether or not they like cantaloupe.

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Today’s The Day; Jason Is Coming Home!

We’ve got some visits to make, our version of gratitude, profound and abiding gratitude.

Most of all and first and always of all, there’s Diane. She kept Jason…day in and night out…from slipping away. She kept him with chin up more than drooping. She kept him to realize Jason is our son, Jason is a father to Jackson, Aiden and Noah.

There’s the City of Austin fellow employees who have donated time and money to support Jason, so he can make it back to work with them.

There’s Amy and Amanda at Wells Fargo.

There’s Vino, Alicia, Shawna, Carissa, Joey, Cindy, Rodney at Randall’s.

There’s Jim at the post office.

There’s Fernando at our post office pick-up box.

There’s best friends ever, Mike and Art.

There’s Catherine and Chuck [recover from back surgery, fella!] and Peter and Bob at St. David’s.

There’s Elizabeth in Austin area UCC ministry.

There’s Dale and Cheryl and Paul and Brian, relatives dear and near.

There’s Tom and Jill in Portland.

There’s the doctors and nurses and therapists at Seton Hospital, Cornerstone Rehab Hospital and Austin Neuro Rehab Center who literally saved Jason’s life, especially our neurosurgeon, Dr. Ashour who acted in a heartbeat so Jason’s heart would keep beating.

There’s those I cannot remember now, but they are alive in my heart…their words, their notes, their prayers for strength and hope.

And in long-distance, with a personal word to each, the best guides in the world [Zorba, Bob, Rabbi Guide in particular], relatives, abiding friendships, that include NIKE [thank you, Lisa and Tom and David] and PGA [thank you, Wiren] touchbases, 60 year classmates from Jefferson High School [especially Jeannette and Doug], ministers from my journey, especially John Thomas and Fred Trost [and Margaret Trost, an angel impersonating a human being!].

There’s my new very special friend, Jessica Cox, who tapped her love and prayers with her toes and Hugh and Jane in Tucson and Don and Barbara in Colorado Springs.

Thanks and a tip of my fishing hat to my favorite Cowboy in New Mexico, the very Slim Randles himself.

There’s the unnamed who listened and nodded and said, “Our prayers for you and Jason and Diane.”

Prayers matter.

Our visiting, because the “Austin Prayer Warriors” have asked, is when he’s ready, Jason and Diane and I will visit so Jason can nod and hug. Eyes will not remain dry.

Such a special day. Jason’s coming home! Even more, though, to me a day when the future refuses to be dull and cloudy…all the time.

Most of all, very most of all, THANK YOU, GOD, and JESUS and the LIVING SPIRIT OF HEALING. AMEN! Hallelujah!

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Jason Is Coming Home!

A new piece of information, “Mark, please take measurement of our outside and garage-entry doors and Jason’s doors—his bathroom and bedroom; let’s make sure they’re wide enough.” That’s probably the best request, which is actually an invitation so the walker and wheelchair will have good entrance.

Because. Make that BECAUSE. Jason has received clearance to get home tomorrow, which would make it a very good Friday, April 6, 2018.

So many of you—the vast most of you—have chronicled with us Jason’s bumpy road to recovery, which began with the hematoma surgery on January 7. So many times the darkness seemed to be the only verity worth noting. We continued, though, in very large part because so many of you contacted us with your prayers and hopes for recovery.

Jason will be home. He will continue to recover, get his strength back, not worry about calories. Well, that’s not true. He will count calories to become more with his meals. Weight needs to be gained because the wait [get it?] to come home is over. Took this picture yesterday…and hopefully he’ll mend more quickly at home with us and has every opportunity to return to his City of Austin job. Thanks be to God and friends and prayers…abounding gratitude!

Go, Jason!

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When History Has A Voice

I cannot say I was surprised; yet, many surprises, many of which ached the soul. Have returned from my 60th high school reunion. A touch here and there for fishing [we never did figure out which side of the boat to “cast our herring!”].

Mainly, though, to reconnect. I thought we’d need nametags. But, wasn’t necessary.

Found it continued flow of blessings and affirmation for those who attended. Found three graduates of our grade school, Vernon in Portland. Rather than say “Hi, how are you?”, we began, “In, into, to, by, for…” in unison offered the prepositions, taught by Agnes Carter in the 8th grade. The others looked with puzzlement; we winked at each other.

Remembered one graduate…she and her husband celebrate 60 years of marriage. The memory of her was so affirmative, told her what I remembered from the 8th grade was very much about genuine and honest and kind. Wonderful.

Learned from another how he’s got a goal…to play on 1,000 different…make that DIFFERENT—golf courses before he cannot find the green any more. I should contact my buddy, Gary Wiren, in North Palm Beach…Wiren knows something or more about golf, a PGA Hall of Fame guy.

Then, the sorrow and the pain and the “Oh, No!” How some classmates had died…and in each instance it was from Alzheimer’s. And in one case somehow money wasn’t protected so her spouse now must live with their son. I ached. How another is battling the challenges of life. How another battles breast cancer…with all the medications. How…how…how.

I say prayers for each of them. The ones who are healthy and vibrant, even if the step is slowed. The ones who find, far more often, a half-full glass.

Then, to listen to Jeannette, my primary purpose to get to Portland. I’ve shared in previous blogs how “it’s her fault” I went into ministry. At the age of 16 she didn’t offer that, she proclaimed that! Her one-woman show, ‘Strangers When We Meet,” was a window looking at Jeannette, and then at times it became a mirror as she shared with unflinching, yet welled eyes honesty about how life doesn’t stay away from Good Friday, but Easter always win. [Hey, got to tag a little with theology here.}

And then, Doug. Have shared many insights from my life-long friend, literally since birth, who lives with Kathy in Eugene. They’ve been married a thousand years. Doug is so focused upon helping those whose limp is so very evident. Then, to visit about our shenanigans on Holman and 25th, our time in high school and the limping and then smoothing times our each growing to this point in life.

I share the picture of Doug and Jeannette…and will keep it forever…or at least through all the tomorrows I can register. I winced when Jeannette shared in our breakfast how our ancestors, whom we share, are Volga Germans from Nordka, Russia. Fifty percent end up with Alzheimer’s. Ouch. My hope is both of us can stay on the healthy side of fifty percent!

A good time. A great time. An anguishing time. A suffering time. All part of life. Far more than the theme of a reunion. It is the very pulsing of our human journey.

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Look, Ma…No Hands!

I have a friend, sort of, who thinks more highly of the self than he ought to think. Sometimes I think his first name is Donald.

Another tact that I’m smitten with. People who never live up to their minimum, people who have more money than brains or humility or caring. People for whom it’s apt: “There’s less there than meets the eye.”

It’s now Saturday afternoon, March 24, the day before Palm Sunday, the day when people fete Jesus in the parade, saying, “Alleluia!” The surface is to praise Him. The deeper is to ask for His help, “Jesus, please save me!”

We know what happens in less than a week. We know.

And, honestly, many if not most of us fasten more on Good Friday than any other day, when we feel “nailed and cursed and pushed lower and lower so we have to reach up to touch bottom.”

Then, moments ago I saw this UTUBE—think that’s what it’s called. Emotionally it is such an upper, reminded me of my new friend, Jessica Cox, who lives in Tucson, who flies an airplane, is a Black Belt and drives her own car, even plays the piano…without arms.

Earlier today—a quick side-note—finished the final edit of the new novel, “Living Without Arms,” and couldn’t help but quote Jessica, “Never say ‘I can’t’, and know that you don’t need arms to uplift people.”

In my novel the last chapter introduces Nathan and Tricia’s new child, who kicks like mad but is unable to hug. They know that, but THEY can HUG and the future….it’s coming.

This UTUBE brings so much inspiration…from a young man who was never chosen for the neighborhood pick-up basketball game…then…well, look at this…it brings so much hope…so much. Maybe to you also. Please.


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